Oktoberfest an der Alster: Celebrating Hamburg-Style

I had really hoped to get down to Bavaria to celebrate my first Oktoberfest in Germany—but with a packed work schedule, coordinating with visiting friends, and the rest of real life, somehow time got away from me. Should I also blame in on the common conviction that Oktoberfest is held in October? Sure! Machen wir so.

The world largest folk festival, Oktoberfest, ironically only overlaps with October for one weekend, and is held annually in Munich. An interesting bit of history, per Wiki,

“The Munich Oktoberfest originally took place in the 16-day period leading up to the first Sunday in October. In 1994, this longstanding schedule was modified in response to German reunification. As such, if the first Sunday in October falls on the 1st or the 2nd, then the festival would run until October 3 (German Unity Day).”

The festival is a Bavarian tradition, but other cities in Germany will hold their own satellite versions of the event, complete with keg-tapping, raucous music, traditional outfits, INCREDIBLE food, and the requisite table dancing. So we gathered a crew and made a reservation at Hamburg’s Hofbrau an der Alster for opening day—myself, the lovely Carolina (in from Los Angeles for the weekend), my work partner, André and his wife, Marcela (who has a rockin’ Youtube channel), and of course, our official German cultural bridge, Tim. Oktoberfest isn’t complete without the outfits—traditional dirndls for the ladies, and lederhosen (leather pants) for the gents—but we added our own spin. Marcela sported “ladyhosen”, a shorter version for women; André had on a Tirolerhüte, a traditional wool or felt Alpine hat; and Carolina has the traditional Edelweiß necklace. (And at one point, both of our menfolk wore the Hofbrau decorative ribbons like Hendrix-style headbands). Once we got to the Hofbrau, we saw all kinds of variations—lederhosen with T-shirts, dirndls worn with converse sneakers—it was a riot of color, braided hair, and checkered shirts.

The one thing Tim was adamant about was making sure the guys had tall enough socks (apparently a huge faux pas to show up without them. For those of us sporting a dirndl apron, we had to do a bit of research to ensure our apron bows were tied on the correct side—right for taken, left for single, a center bow for “maids” or virgins. It is only knotted in the back if you are a widow.

The food at the Hofbrau is amazing, and so we ordered a tableful of it. Literally, to the point where we could not fit anything else on the table. The Filipino in me of course loves Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), which comes with a thick, crispy layer of skin over soft, seasoned meat. We also has Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), pretzels, and Weißwurst (white sausage, served with sweet mustard). The Weißwurst came in a little pot of water, and had to be peeled out of their skins before we ate…an act that got more challenging after a Maß of beer!

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Speaking of! What makes the beer at Oktoberfest special? No matter where you are, the beer served has to conform t the Reinheitsgebot, or the German Beer Purity Law. According to the 1516 Bavarian law, the only ingredients that could be used in the production of beer were water, barley and hops. There are only six breweries that can produce Oktoberfest Beer—even the beer we drank at the Hofbrau in Hamburg came from one of them. Beer is served by the liter in large glass mugs called Maß, which are solid enough to withstand hearty cheersing and, when full, will easily make your arm tired as you chug. (So drink faster?) I loved watching the waitresses, who looked diminutive in their pretty dirndls, beast 8-10 Maße from the bar to their waiting tables.


It also wouldn’t be Oktoberfest without music and dancing. Our festival had a little traveling band that went from room to room, playing music. In the main area was a stage with a bigger band—they started with traditional music, but then started to integrate some Bavarian-styled pop covers as the night went on. After the first liter of beer, everyone was on board with jumping up on the benches—singing across the hall and laughing like crazy.

So it wasn’t Bavarian Oktoberfest, but it was definitely German—loud, drunken, and a Maß-load of fun.